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Secret Agent Man

The Right Way to Think About Planning Your Acting Career

The Right Way to Think About Planning Your Acting Career
Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

 “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”

I’m not a religious man, but I’ve always loved that quote. It speaks to the unexpected nature of life and our foolish attempts to control it. Just when you think you’ve got your path all figured out, an unexpected gust of wind will send you off in a brand-new direction. This is especially true if you want to be an actor.

Starting an acting career is like boarding a plane for Miami that lands in Toronto; it’s disorienting and you probably packed the wrong clothes. The key is to be prepared for the unexpected.

When I was beginning my career as an agent, I met two young ladies who were brilliant improvisers. Watching them perform onstage, spinning gold from audience ideas, made me laugh harder than the first time I saw “Young Frankenstein.” So I signed them.

Lisa and Anne were just starting out in L.A. and their mutual goal was to be series regulars on a half-hour comedy; sitcom, single-camera, it didn’t matter. They just wanted to make money being funny. I felt that was realistic, and the three of us set our course. But somewhere in the background, God was already having a good chuckle.

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After two years of sporadic bookings, my comedy queens were on the right path. Casting directors were becoming fans and their momentum was growing. It was just a matter of time before they tested for a half-hour pilot. I felt good about the progress we were making.

Lisa and Anne were happy, too. The positive feedback they were receiving made them feel confident, so they decided to try their hand at writing—just for fun, mind you. It wasn’t long before the two of them had put together some decent spec work.

Long story short, they submitted one of their scripts to a studio writing program and despite the impossible odds, they were accepted into the program. That took six months. During that time, they weren’t available to audition. Then the studio assigned them to work in the writing room of a successful half-hour show. That meant putting their acting careers on indefinite hold. None of us were happy about that, but the two of them loved writing so they played the cards they were dealt.

Today, Lisa and Anne are producers and writers on a show that has become one of the most successful comedies in recent history. And they’re rich. I mean Malibu rich. They also have a few Emmys on their mantels.

The funny thing is the last time we ran into each other, Lisa and Anne confessed how much they missed acting. We had a good laugh over that and then I helped them pick up all the hundred-dollar bills that were falling out of their purses.

When I go on vacation, I’m a planning fool. I figure out exactly what I want to do on what day. But I do this with the understanding that I’ll chuck the whole plan out the window if something better and unexpected comes along.

If you can roll with that kind of thinking, you might have a shot at a successful acting career. Or something.

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